Winter, pollution and patients from outside ‘blamed’ for rush on ICU in Delhi

While hospitals in Delhi are running out of ICU beds with ventilators, the authorities maintain that the fatalities are mostly among the elderly and that the situation is better than in June or July

Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
Representative Image (Photo Courtesy: IANS)
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NH Web Desk and Agencies

ICU beds with ventilators in private Delhi hospitals are fast running following a surge of COVID and non-COVID patients. “Doctors have been calling each other frantically asking if there are beds available…It’s really a huge mess right now,”

Head, Critical Care Medicine at Holy Family Hospital, Delhi was quoted as saying in a report in The Quint on Sunday evening. Dr Vijay Dutta at the Indian Spinal Injuries Centre said, “we received 7-8 requests for ICU beds for COVID patients every day and had to turn down a few due to non-availability.”

Delhi, which has been reeling under the third wave of coronavirus, has reported a death rate of 1.58 per cent as compared to the national fatality rate of 1.48 per cent.

Authorities attribute the high number of daily COVID-19 deaths in the national capital to a large number of "critical" non-resident patients coming to the city for treatment from neighbouring states, unfavourable weather, pollution and better "reporting and mapping" of fatalities.

They say the easing of restrictions has exposed the vulnerable population, such as the elderly and those having comorbidities, to the deadly virus.

In the month of November alone, the national capital has recorded 1,759 fatalities till November 21 at around around 83 deaths per day. The number of deaths breached the 100-mark four times in the last 10 days.

The average fatality rate in Delhi stands at 1.58 per cent at present, which is higher than the national death rate of 1.48 per cent, according to government data.

At 3.2 per cent, Punjab's fatality rate is the maximum among all states and Union Territories. Maharashtra (2.6 per cent), Sikkim (2 per cent), Gujarat (2 per cent), West Bengal (1.8 per cent), Puducherry (1.7 per cent), Madhya Pradesh (1.6 per cent) and Uttarakhand (1.6 per cent) have recorded more deaths per 100 confirmed cases than Delhi.

Dr B L Sherwal, the managing director of Rajiv Gandhi Super Specialty Hospital, said, "Overall, more deaths occur during winters. This is one major difference we have observed in case of COVID-19 fatalities, too."

The cold weather is not favorable for people with weak immune systems who are at higher risk of getting severely sick from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, he said. "Seventy per cent of those who have died due to coronavirus were elderly or had comorbidities," he said.

Dr Sherwal said that mostly young people were getting infected before the lockdown curbs were lifted. "The virus has spread among the elderly rapidly due to easing of restrictions and the festival season. This segment accounts for most of the critical cases," he said.

"High pollution levels and population density are also among major reasons for the large number of coronavirus cases and deaths in Delhi," he said.

N K Ganguly, former director general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, said mapping of deaths has become better as compared to the initial months. "Earlier, all COVID-19 deaths were not being counted. Reasons other than coronavirus were attributed to the deaths that occurred in households and small hospitals. Now, each death is being confirmed and counted due to better testing facilities," he said.

An official from a Delhi government hospital said the high fatality rate was also due to the large number of non-resident critical patients coming to the city for treatment.

"These serious patients come to Delhi after exhausting all their options. It is natural that the deaths will be more here as compared to other places," he said.

The official said another important parameter is "reporting infrastructure". "The mapping and reporting of deaths in the national capital is better as compared to other places," the official claimed.

Recently, Health Minister Satyendar Jain had also said that the COVID-19 death rate in national capital was slightly higher than the national average.

He, however, noted that situation at present was much better than June when the fatality rate had soared to "3.5 per cent". While the mortality rate in July was 3.12 per cent, it had fallen to 2.54 per cent by the end of August.

He said the city was reeling under the third wave of coronavirus but the gradual reduction in the number of new COVID-19 cases and the positivity rate is a "clear indicator" that the spread of the virus is decreasing in the national capital.

Battling a surge in coronavirus cases, the AAP government had on Thursday increased the fine for not wearing masks from Rs 500 to Rs 2,000 and directed private hospitals to reserve 80 per cent ICU beds for coronavirus patients.

Private hospitals have also been directed to increase the percentage of non-ICU COVID-19 beds from 50 per cent to 60 per cent.

Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had asked hospitals to postpone non-critical planned surgeries for the time being.

The government also said it will increase the number of RT-PCR tests to 27,000 a day in the national capital and MBBS students and interns will be engaged to tackle the COVID-19 situation.

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